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Cook County Board addresses pension shortfall

Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Daily Herald
by Ted Cox

In its first lame-duck session since last week's primary election, the Cook County Board cleaned up some old business Tuesday by approving full payment of $104 million owed its pension fund.

The payment, owed since the county fell short of its pension obligation for the 2007 fiscal year, will be made by selling short-term notes and paying them back over the next three years.

Laura Lechowicz Felicione, special counsel to President Todd Stroger, said it would save the county $1 million in interest compared with the county paying the shortfall back directly in annual installments over the next three years.

Chicago Democratic Commissioner Forrest Claypool called it a "reasonable" way to address an "irresponsible" move in the first place. The shortfall was part of budget cuts imposed before Stroger's penny-on-the-dollar sales-tax increase went into effect in 2008.

Riverside Republican Commissioner Tony Peraica countered, "I don't think the taxpayers of Cook County are getting a good deal here," and wondered aloud how the state and the city of Chicago could fall so far behind on their pension payments, and what would be the result if the county simply didn't pay it.

"We have to pay this money back," said Crestwood Democratic Commissioner Joan Patricia Murphy, and Chicago Democratic Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno, acting as president pro tem in Stroger's absence, at one point shut Peraica down, saying, "You are out of order."

Peraica proved to be the only commissioner to vote against it in a 13-1 tally.

Moreno explained that Stroger was "stuck in the snow" trying to return from a weekend trip to New Orleans.

Having lost his primary last week to Jesus Garcia, Moreno is a lame duck along with Claypool, who decided against running for re-election. Stroger too is a lame duck, having lost his primary to Chicago Alderman Toni Preckwinkle.

Moreno, however, congratulated all other commissioners on winning their primaries and said, "I look forward to my remaining days on the board with you."

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